Azara Blog: Some combination of seven additives apparently effects behaviour of children

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Date published: 2007/09/06

The BBC says:

Parents have been warned of the effects of food additives on their children's behaviour after new research found a possible link to hyperactivity.

A Food Standards Agency (FSA) study of 300 random children found they behaved impulsively and lost concentration after a drink containing additives.

The FSA now says hyperactive children might benefit from fewer additives.
The Food Standards Agency paid for Southampton University researchers to examine whether giving additives to a group of ordinary three-year-olds and eight or nine-year-olds had any effect on their behaviour.

The children were randomly given one of three drinks, either a potent mix of colourings and additives, a drink that roughly matched the average daily additive intake of a child of their age, or a "placebo" drink which had no additives.

Their hyperactivity levels were measured before and after the drink was taken. Mix "A", with the high levels of additives, had a "significantly adverse" effect compared with the inactive placebo drink.

The older children showed some adverse effects after the second, less potent mix, although the response varied significantly from child to child.

Lead researcher Professor Jim Stevenson said the study, published in the Lancet, showed that certain mixtures of artificial food colours, alongside sodium benzoate, a preservative used in ice cream and confectionary, were linked to increases in hyperactivity.

He added: "However, parents should not think that simply taking these additives out of food will prevent hyperactive disorders.

"We know that many other influences are at work but this at least is one a child can avoid."

He said it was not possible to say which of the ingredients in the additives cocktail affected the children.

Between 5% and 10% of school-age children suffer some degree of ADHD - attention deficit hyperactivity disorder - researchers suggest, with symptoms such as impulsiveness, inability to concentrate and excessive activity.

More boys than girls are diagnosed with the condition, and children with ADHD can struggle academically, often behaving poorly in school.

Andrea Bilbow, from ADHD support group ADDISS, said most parents of children with ADHD had tried diet changes.

While more than half had reported some improvement, this tended to be modest when compared with the effect of medication, she said.

"In some respects the question of food additives is a little bit of a red herring.

"While in some cases, a poor diet could make ADHD even worse, a better diet is not going to make it much better," she said.

At least this health study seems to have been done properly, with the three groups chosen randomly. (And presumably the researchers marking the behaviour of the children did not know who was in which group.) So the effect seems real, although its significance is another matter. Of course the usual suspects (including many in the media) came out of the woodwork and said (all?) additives should be banned. But there are zillions of additives and this study only looked at one combination of seven of them (so it's possible only one or two of the seven were causing the effect). So the implication of the results is rather limited. Unfortunately the knee-jerk reaction of the control freaks who dominate Britain (and Europe) is to ban just about anything and everything they don't like.

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